It was revealed during all our discussions with hearing impaired in Sri Lanka during 2019 that they prefer an interpreter when meeting a doctor. Even those like Indika, who lives an independent life, seem to be uncomfortable being alone in the context of a hospital. I am concerned by this.
Hearing impaired in Sri Lanka generally have low education attainment due to various reasons. The language deficit is the main cause of learning problems that result in reduced academic achievements. The grammatical rules of spoken language are different to the structures of signed language, and are therefore difficult for the hearing impaired to make sense of.
Deaf respondents also told us that learning human anatomy was challenging for them. This is due partially to the lack of well-trained teachers in schools as well as the lack of sign language signals to describe complex processes in the human body. Difficulty of communicating with doctors is partially related to their understanding of human body. Those who are literate can communicate to a certain extent with doctors but all those living with hearing impairment do not have the privilege of a formal education and literacy.
What can be done to mitigate the communication gaps with the doctors? Some preliminary thoughts:
- We will have to make accessible materials to explain human anatomy. Even mainstream school children might find it hard to study human anatomy. But they have access to other simplified sources of information such as health programs on television or radio to understand health related issues throughout their lives. But for most of hearing impaired it is only what they learnt in the schools.
- There are a set of questions that doctors are required to ask from patients. Can we have them printed as a booklet with sign language, for hearing impaired?
- Can we make a descriptive sign language dictionary to help those with hearing impairment understand health issues and hospital scenarios better?
- Can we make all above digital and include QR codes to access information required? This digital dictionary will include videos explaining information in sign language.